By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Legislation that would grant the District a representative in Congress with full voting rights is scheduled to go before the U.S. Senate next week, a potential milestone in the long battle to secure a seat for the District in the House of Representatives.
Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) decided Friday night to send the bill to the Senate floor for debate Feb. 23, the first major bill on tap after Congress returns from the Presidents' Day break. A preliminary vote is scheduled for Feb. 24.
Similar legislation failed in 2007, when Democrats could not secure the 60 votes needed to push the bill through the Senate. But Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said yesterday that she thinks there is a bipartisan group of 63 or 64 senators who will support it this year.
"We do believe we have the votes," Norton told reporters at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center yesterday morning during the annual Tax and Information Fair. She said she expects "mischief" from senators who are opposed to the bill, with possibilities including amendments aimed at derailing it.
With Democrats' new 58-to-41 majority in the Senate -- including two independents who generally caucus with them -- the party would need to persuade at least two Republicans to join them for the bill to be successful.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) backed the legislation in the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs last week, where it passed 11 to 1. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) was the lone Republican vote against the measure, which he challenges as being unconstitutional because the District is not a state.
In 2007, similar legislation fell three votes short.
Another proposal included in the bill would add a voting representative to Utah through at least 2012, potentially drawing bipartisan support, as Utah leans conservative. The bill would not provide the District with representation in the Senate.
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, said Democrats are discussing the bill with new members of the Senate in the hopes of securing votes.
"We are cautiously optimistic that we have the votes to pass this," Manley said.